1. The terms of reference for this inquiry posed the following questions:
What action would raise the standard of parking enforcement activity? Is Statutory Guidance needed to promote consistency?
Is the appeals process fair and effective? How could it be improved?
Is it appropriate that local authorities should keep the revenue generated from parking charges?
Is there any evidence that the opportunity to raise revenue through decriminalized parking enforcement has inappropriately influenced authorities’ parking policy and enforcement activity?
What criteria should be used to determine the level of parking provision that should be provided?
What are the wider impacts of current parking policy and illegally parked vehicles?
What role should parking policy play in traffic management and demand management?
How can public understanding and acceptance of the need for parking policy be achieved?
3. As car ownership has risen, there has been an accompanying increase in the pressure on parking space. The Association of London Government has estimated that some 50 million illegal parking acts take place each year in London which cost annually in the order of £270 million in additional delays and accidents. The Department for Transport told us it did not hold such statistics on a national scale. Extrapolating the London figure for the country however gives an indication of the scale of the problem caused by illegal parking.
4. Apart from the scale of the problem, these contraventions are in themselves anti-social because their result is to interfere with the daily lives of millions of people by: causing congestion, disrupting bus schedules, obstructing pedestrians and road users, and endangering public safety.
5. Sound parking regulations are vital to prevent these unwelcome results. But such regulations are worthless if they are not enforced. Equally, the quality of the regulations and the enforcement regime must be high if the arrangements are to have public credibility and support. Despite this straightforward reasoning, the enforcement of parking controls has not been a priority for the police for several years. This was a main reason for the introduction of decriminalised parking enforcement in the 1990s.
6. Those local authorities that have adopted decriminalised parking enforcement have been able to manage parking controls as part of wider traffic management strategies which can contribute to broader social, economic and environmental objectives. In addition, since local authorities keep the revenue raised through parking charges and penalty charges, there is the opportunity for them to invest in additional parking arrangements and other transport improvements. These are clear benefits for local government.
7. As a result of this transfer of powers, and the increasing enforcement activity, many more people have first hand experience of receiving Penalty Charge Notices for parking contraventions. Local authorities with enforcement powers issued 7,123,000 Notices in 2003. It is therefore most important that the parking regime is one that is efficient and effective. As more local authorities adopt decriminalized parking enforcement, and as media portrayals of over-zealous and disproportionate enforcement persist, there is a risk that the public perception of parking operations will deteriorate to the point where the appropriateness of any parking controls is brought into question.
8. The most recent figures, for 2003/04, show that the surplus income in England from all parking activities was £439,125,000. This is a large sum, and despite the significant growth in such revenue generation since the introduction of civil parking enforcement in 1991 the Department for Transport has not formally evaluated the successes and weaknesses of the scheme.
9. For all those reasons, therefore, we thought it timely to hold an inquiry into parking policy and enforcement. Any enforcement system will provoke some dissatisfaction, especially from those alleged to have infringed the regulations. Moreover, there is wide scope for error in enforcement. We firmly believe however that with enhanced training, guidance and clear performance criteria it should be possible to achieve a higher quality enforcement operation than at present throughout the country; one which enjoys public confidence; and serves the urgent need of managing well the valuable space on our streets.
10. We understand that the Department for Transport intends to issue draft guidance and regulations on parking. We expect our recommendations to be considered carefully by the Department in that exercise, and we hope that our report and the accompanying evidence will prove useful to it.
11. We held two sessions of evidence. We wish to thank those who provided oral and written evidence. Members of the Committee visited the London Parking and Traffic Appeals Service in December 2005 where they heard presentations from Mr Nick Lester of the Association of London Government, and Mr Martin Wood, Chief Adjudicator for London. We are grateful to them for facilitating a useful visit. Finally, we also wish to thank Professor John Raine of the School of Public Policy in the University of Birmingham, our Specialist Advisor throughout this inquiry.